Researchers at the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) managed to observe the movement of molecules stored inside a graphene pocket without the need to stain them. This study opens the door to using graphene for observing the dynamics of life building blocks like proteins, DNA and more.
Due to its operating mechanism, electron microscopy is known to be suitable for visualizing inert, dead samples, while living material needs to be chemically locked in place. IBS scientists broke this rule and visualized non-fixed chains of atoms, called polymers, swimming in a liquid inside graphene pockets. These consist of 3-5 graphene layers on the bottom and two on top. The sheets are impermeable to small molecules, and also prevent the electron beam from instantly harming the sample: the scientists had an average of 100 seconds to admire the dynamic movement of individual polymer molecules, before these were destroyed by the electron beam. During these valuable seconds, molecules change position, rearrange or "jump around".